The Online Legacy of Sheriff Clarke
His use of government social media set an ugly precedent which must be rejected.
The resignation of Sheriff David Clarke leaves a troubling question, as to whether his use of the Milwaukee County Sheriff Office’s official Facebook page was appropriate. Did Clarke set a precedent for future office holders?
A typical post from him was a concerning messge on January 19th 2017. It stated the sheriff “regrets he could not attend this juvenile, leftist, anti-cop tantrum”. The post was likely referring to the numerous protests which followed Donald Trump‘s election day win. It went onto to state Clarke was en-route to “witness the swearing in of our next president”.
Then there was his cowboy warning to one county citizen implying he might be eliminated: “cheer up snowflake, if Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to wine about it.”
The post earned ire from numerous residents who blasted the page’s unprofessional conduct. Some initially thought the account had been hacked, or was fake. Others, however, expressed embarrassment for their city especially after the 2016 riots. The posts didn’t cease, and became normal no matter how outlandish they were.
Even the page’s banner became a “don’t tread on me” rattlesnake associated with the far right-wing Tea Party. It was offputting to see a sworn police agency and official government Facebook page take a hard line political stance. It’s difficult to find any government agency’s Facebook page which so regularly mocked the public on an ideological level.
In an age centralized around the internet, online outreach is key. And in a time where trust in America’s police force is precarious, Sheriff Clarke’s use of the department’s social media fanned flames. The controversial Clarke jumped at any opportunity to put down “the left”, “liberals”, and his other political enemies. Clarke’s commentary severely damaged the department’s image. Eventually, residents began commenting that they respected MCSO personnel, but not their leader. The former sheriff sought to confront political adversaries in however brazen or open a way he chose. In so doing, however, he made many more enemies for his department even after his resignation. The department’s image and the community’s trust in it have been damaged.
Clarke also leaves the agency trailed by the deaths of inmates in the county jail and by a police shooting involving one of its own sheriffs. Terry Williams was shot after attempting to flee a traffic stop near Milwaukee’s lakefront. The bullets were fired before dozens of witnesses, who all filmed and uploaded it to the world. Passengers were wounded, while Williams was put on life support and later died. Clarke offered statements at the time which, once again, dissatisfied many residents. As of August 30th, the case was being reviewed by the Milwaukee County District Attorney.
Clarke now has a paid position supporting President Donald Trump, something he did frequently while being paid by Milwaukee taxpayers. Meanwhile, the county sheriff’s office must repair the PR damage wreaked by its former leader. We’re in 2017, and most of any public relations, marketing, and advertising by government goes online, paid for by taxpayers. The internet is so embedded in modern society that it’s arguably a public utility. After David Clarke’s use of his agency’s official Facebook page to launch his many political attacks, saving face is going to take work.
The author reached out to Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, now under the command of Richard Schmidt. Specifically, I asked what would become of the department’s social media presence. “The page is the official page of the agency”, emailed Director of Support Services Fran McLaughlin, “and as such, the sheriff has the authority to post on the page.” Since Schmidt is now in command, “posts will reflect the information he would like to relay to the community.” If nothing else, the statement attests to just how much of the charged posts reflected Clarke himself. Following his resignation, MCSO’s Facebook banner has changed to an American flag and sheriff badge. But while the more recent posts are PR friendly, many of the flagrant posts by Clarke can still be read, a reminder of what government offices should always avoid.
More about the Resignation of Sheriff Clarke
- Op Ed: The Online Legacy of Sheriff Clarke - Isiah Holmes - Sep 14th, 2017
- Back in the News: Why Did Sheriff Clarke Resign? - Bruce Murphy - Sep 1st, 2017
- Alderman Bob Donovan thanks Sheriff Clarke on his years of dedication to public service - Ald. Bob Donovan - Sep 1st, 2017
- Sheriff David Clarke’s Resignation is a Victory for Milwaukee - U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - Aug 31st, 2017
- Chairman Lipscomb Statement on Resignation of Sheriff Clarke - County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. - Aug 31st, 2017
- Statement from Earnell Lucas, candidate for Milwaukee County Sheriff - Earnell Lucas - Aug 31st, 2017
- Supervisor Moore Omokunde Statement on Clarke Resignation - Sup. Supreme Moore Omokunde - Aug 31st, 2017
- Sen. Taylor Applauds Sheriff Clarke’s Resignation - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Aug 31st, 2017
- Resignation Letter - Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. - Aug 31st, 2017